Malta is the least wasteful country in the EU

fruit and veg

In the news this week is a report from Eurostat on the eye watering amount of food wasted in the EU each year. In total, the EU wastes 89.2 million tonnes every year and that figure is rising.

The UK is the most wasteful of the EU’s 27 member states, wasting a whopping 14.3 million tonnes each year. Next come Germany (10.3 million tonnes), the Netherlands (9.4 million tonnes), France (9 million tonnes) and Poland (8.9 million tonnes).

But WELL DONE MALTA! Malta is the least profligate country in the EU, only wasting a relatively tiny 25,000 tonnes each year.

The shameful thing is that research suggests that nearly three quarters of food waste is avoidable.

A key reason for avoidable food waste is a ridiculous consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food. Visit any UK supermarket and you will see row upon row of uniform, blemish-free, homogenised fruit and vegetables. What a contrast to Malta! Here we have an abundance of greengrocers and mobile fruit and veg vans selling fresh and seasonal fruit and veg in all manner of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes. NEWS FLASH! A twisted green pepper tastes just as good (or even better) than a perfectly rounded, smooth one.

So, come on consumers; tell your supermarkets that you would rather eat ugly fruit and vegetables than see them wasted.

Other key contributors to avoidable food waste are unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, poor storage, and promotional offers, for which blame sits more squarely on the shoulders of regulators and retailers.

Chinese Garlic

GarlicWe are all told that garlic is good for us, reportedly lowering blood pressure, improving circulation and helping in the fight against some cancers. The evidence for these claims is mixed but it suggests that if these health benefits are real, you need to eat large quantities of garlic to benefit.

But is the garlic we are eating safe? Maybe that depends on where it comes from.

80% of the world’s supply of garlic comes from China. And Henry Bell of the Australian Garlic Industry Association tells us some unpalatable facts about Chinese garlic. It is bleached. It is sprayed with chemicals to stop sprouting, to whiten it, and to kill insects and plant matter. Some is grown in raw sewage.

“I know for a fact that some garlic growers over there use raw human sewage to fertilise their crops.”

Chinese garlic is fumigated with methyl bromide to get rid of bugs. Methyl bromide is a very toxic hazard. Exposure to high concentrations can cause damage to the respiratory and central nervous systems, even death. According to the UN it is 60 times more damaging than chlorine. It is the base of CFCs.

Chinese garlic is also reportedly contaminated with lead, sulphites and other unsafe compounds.

Oh, and if you see Chinese garlic advertised as organic, be sceptical. Organic certification methods in China cannot be trusted.

Chinese garlic may also be over-stored. Over-storage is problematic because levels of allicin start to decline over time. Allicin is one of the major constituents in garlic responsible for its health benefits.

So, next time you pick up some “healthy” garlic in your local supermarket, you may not be getting quite what you bargained for. LW and I only buy non-Chinese, fresh garlic. It may not be as pretty but it sure beats the alternative!

I’ll drink to that!

lager

The UK media often tell us that when it comes to drinking alcohol, the UK is the bad boy of Europe. In towns up and down the country we see civil unrest, domestic violence, road traffic accidents and crowded A&E departments, all thanks to the demon drink. In France it is more civilised isn’t it? After all, they only drink wine and at that only a couple of glasses with meals.

Well, not quite. The OECD has just published data showing alcohol consumption per capita across Europe in 2013. The UK came out a respectable 18th out of 27. France was 7th. Lithuania is the booziest nation; Italy the least.

What’s more, the research does not include “moonshine” or similar home-made alcohol. Many of the countries that fared well on the OECD’s list, not least in Scandinavia, have a moonshine culture. If that had been taken into account, the UK would have fared even better.

The research also shows that overall, consumption has fallen in the 13 years since the study was last done in 2000. Drill down further and we see that a relatively small proportion of the population – 20% – accounts for the lion’s share of the drinking, varying country-to-country from 50% to a stonking 90% (Hungary). Yeah, in Hungary 90% of alcohol is drunk by just 20% of the population!

Here is the full list.

Lithuania
Austria
Estonia
Czech Republic
Russia
Hungary
France
Luxembourg
Germany
Poland
Ireland
Portugal
Latvia
Switzerland
Slovakia
Spain
Belgium
UK
Slovenia
Denmark
Netherlands
Finland
Sweden
Greece
Iceland
Norway
Italy

Coca-Cola paying diet experts to counter obesity claims? I’m not surprised – what I saw there horrified me.

Coca-Cola

This is a reproduction of an article written by Chris Hemmings and published by the Independent on 12th October 2015. Disgruntled former employee or exposé? You decide!

“Like an over-shaken can, outrage is spilling everywhere today. An investigation by The Times has outlined how Coca-Cola spends millions of dollars every year trying to disprove the undisprovable.

Frankly, anyone gullible enough to believe any ‘research’ suggesting cans of fizzy sugar don’t make you fat is an idiot, but that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is what Coca-Cola do day in day out, and nobody bats an eyelid.
When I was offered my first ‘proper job’ in 2009 it was, for my sins, with Coca-Cola Enterprises (the then UK arm of the Coca-Cola Company). I was a territory sales rep. With a van full of all the drinks I used to guzzle as a kid (Fanta, Sprite, Capri Sun, and, of course, the rainbow of Coke varieties) I set off with joy to my ‘patch’ to sell, sell, sell.
It took all of two days for my enthusiasm to be completely annihilated.

In my branded transit I approached my third store of day two. My objective was clear: get to know my customer, get to know their customers, sell them everything they need and then sell them everything they don’t. On arrival at the petrol station forecourt, to my utter dismay, I spotted a young boy, probably no older than fourteen. Fourteen years old, and about fourteen stone. Dressed in his repulsive fluorescent school uniform, his face was flushed red from the almost impossible task of standing upright. In his hand? A two litre bottle of Sprite. The sugar content of which is 136 grams. That’s 144 per cent of his daily recommended amount – and there were numerous 4 packs of those on my ‘for sale’ list.
I had become the conduit for obesity, and it felt awful.

So this went on – day after day, month after month. Each month a new target, new product or new initiative to ‘sell in’ to my 144 customers. Each individual drink noted, tallied and scored by the great Coke computer back at base. Any drink went off sale and there were investigations to be made. Any non-Coke products in a Coke fridge and the company could send threatening letters to a struggling corner shop owner. It doesn’t matter that a product may not be selling; they are contractually obliged to fill their fridge with, basically, whatever Coke tells them to.

Then came the new golden boy of pop: the energy drink. Since the advent of Red Bull, the sector was growing by hundreds of percentage points year on year and showed no signs of slowing down.

In meeting after meeting we were told of all the new varieties of caffeine-filled sugar bombs we were to peddle: four Relentless flavours, three Monster, three Powerade and, for a brief time, the energy shot. Our targets had to be met, so our targets were kids. “Find out where the big schools are in your area,” we were told. “Show the shops these graphs, charts, figures… Kids love these products.”

A 500ml can of Monster Ripper not only contains 47 per cent of our recommended sugar intake, it also has 160mg of caffeine. That’s the equivalent of having a cup and a half of coffee, with ten sugars. Try giving that to your teenage daughter.

Teachers started complaining about their pupils being high on energy drinks during class, only to crash later in the day. So lots of schools banned fizzy drinks from their premises. Coke had to start removing vending machines up and down the land. Their reaction was simple: sell it to them off-site instead. And lo and behold! In came the era of the ‘meal deal’.

This was the new baby of the bosses. In every newsagent, sandwich shop and cafe, we were told to link our products with everything from newspapers to crisps. We offered our branding in return for discounted rates or for product placement within the stores. Coke will tell you a 500ml bottle only contains two servings. Confusing, then, that we should link them with a single serving of sandwich.

During the Olympics our brand ‘activation’ was scary. As an official sponsor, we completely hijacked the Olympic torch relay. Internally it became less about the torch, but more about how much product was available on the route it took through the UK. I was working in supermarkets by then, and was told I should have been ‘embarrassed’ by the paltry offering I made in my Tesco Extra store. We were supposed to be celebrating an Olympic flame passing through, but all Coke wanted to do was piss their product all over those in attendance.

I started to challenge our ethics from within, but the response was often a passive aggressive ‘We’re simply offering the customer a choice’. I dispute that to this day. With the levels of advertising, sponsorship and branding they achieve it becomes less a choice, more a subconscious trigger.

We worked with the big four supermarkets to offer deals on Coke with pizza, Coke with cooked chickens, Coke with curries and, of course, Coke with more Coke. We had to fight for as much display space as possible within every store and colleagues were hailed as heroes for building a mock-stadium out of 6-pack cans during the football World Cup. We were even told to get Capri Sun put on the ‘back-to-school’ aisle. The more we succeeded, the more we were paid. Because Coke don’t care about their customers; they just care that they have them.

As people take issue with a bit of research, hidden away in some journal nobody will ever read, they sit silently as they’re slapped in the face by branding. We allow companies like Coca-Cola to sponsor FIFA, the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup without so much as questioning the ethics behind such a decision. By pouring millions of our diabetic dollars in to these events, we start to associate physical activity with fizzy drinks. It’s ludicrous, and yet remains unchallenged. Their marketing is a juggernaut, riding roughshod over decency and our health, in the search for profits.

Money talks, and Coca-Cola have it all. Our only defence is stop giving it to them.

Oh – and if you drink Vitamin Water thinking it’s good for you, you deserve that triple bypass.”

Sudan Red Scandal

Paprika on plate

 

Here is an infamous example of adulteration of spices.

In 2005 an effort by some unscrupulous spice producers in India to cheapen their processed spices led to the largest food product recall in the world.

These producers were adulterating their red chilli powders by bulking them up with stems, mouldy pods, seeds and ghost pods (light coloured pods where the pigments have not developed). The problem was that by doing this, the chilli powders they produced no longer had a typical red colour. The answer they came up with was to add a collection of dyes generally referred to as Sudan Red (Sudan 1, 11, 111 and 1V). The results were chilli powders with a more authentic colour. Sudan Red dyes are commonly used in India to dye leather and fabric. The European Food Safety Authority considers Sudan Red to be genotoxic and carcinogenic; that’s why it is banned.

The reason these unethical producers went to all this trouble is because they ended up with faux red chilli powders that they could sell for less than cost of corresponding whole red chillies. In other words, it was much more profitable than producing an authentic product.

Fortunately they came unstuck. One of the producers used an excess of Sudan I, which is yellow in colour. In an effort to correct that colour, he then had to add more of the redder Sudan dyes. This ended up making the final red chilli powder look very unnatural which in turn led to the identification of the problem.

The contaminated red chilli powders were recalled and further supplies of them were cut off. However, the problem was hugely exacerbated by the use of red chilli powder as an ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce. In February 2005 it was discovered that the red chilli powders contaminated by Sudan Red had been used in the production of Worcestershire Sauce. Worcestershire Sauce is itself used as an ingredient in dozens other food products, not least ready meals. The recall of Worcestershire Sauce and other products in which it was used is the largest in history.

The Black and White Pepper Scam!

black and white peppers LOW RES

This post follows on from my recent article about adulteration of herbs and spices.  Pepper accounts for about a quarter of the world’s spice trade and not surprisingly has attracted some pretty unsavoury producers over the years.

Black pepper and white pepper are harvested from the same plant. Black pepper is harvested when the berries are immature and still green. As they dry in the sun, they turn black.

Berries left on the vine turn from green to red as they mature. White pepper is harvested when the mature berries begin to turn red. They are soaked in water for a few weeks which softens the red outer skin. The berries are then rubbed together to rub off the soft outer skin. When the berries are washed and dried in the sun, the berries dry to a light buff colour. The characteristic odour of white pepper is slightly musty and mouldy due to the period of soaking. This characteristic odour is descriptive of true white pepper.

An alternative unscrupulous method of producing a ground pepper that is white in colour is to start with black pepper. Certain varieties of black pepper can have their black outer shells mechanically abraded. In essence the idea is to scrape off the black outer shell and leave the whiter coloured inner part of the berry intact. This decorticated black pepper can then be ground and sold as white pepper.

Typically, true white pepper sells for about a 50% premium over black pepper because true white pepper is lower yielding and costs more to produce as it requires more processing. However, the production of a white decorticated black pepper is typically not financially advantageous unless the processor also has an outlet for the left over black pepper shells. The obvious outlet for these shells is to put them into ground black pepper. The spice processor willing to do this ends up both supplying a mislabeled white pepper and dilutes the flavour of the black pepper since the shells contain nearly no black pepper flavour.

We all invariably use a lot more black pepper than white pepper.  My advice, therefore, is to always buy whole black peppercorns and grind them yourself and, if you do use white pepper, buy organic to make sure you are getting the real deal.

Adulteration of Herbs, Spices and Seasoning Blends

The recent scandal involving Volkswagen is a sad reminder that we cannot trust even so-called premium brands to be truthful about what they are selling to us. Sometimes, as with Volkswagen, the deception appears to be deliberate. Other times it may be careless or inadvertent; think of the Tesco “beef burgers” that in 2013 were found to contain 29% horse meat.
Paprike low res
Adulteration of foods may not only give you an inferior product but at worst it may kill or poison you. Herbs and spices and seasoning blends are a good example. In 1994 ground paprika in Hungary was found to be adulterated with lead oxide. Several people died; dozens of others became unwell. And 2005 saw the largest food recall in history following the discovery of carcinogenic Sudan Red dye in red chilli powder.

In a perfect world we would always buy herbs and spices and seasoning blends that are pure and natural, wouldn’t we? The trouble is, the only way to be certain of that is to buy organic products and you can expect to pay a premium for organic, sometimes a hefty premium at that. However, most of us don’t use huge amounts of dried herbs and spices so paying more shouldn’t break the bank. Organic doesn’t only mean that there is no use of man-made pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. Organic certification means independent inspection to ensure pure and natural standards.

Unfortunately, not all non-organic herbs and spices on the market are pure and natural. Herbs and spices that are not pure and natural are those that have been adulterated. The most common form of adulteration is economic adulteration – the addition of constituents to herbs or spices to increase their value/profit or appearance. As examples, the addition of cheap bulking agents to a spice enables a producer to sell it more cheaply, or artificially enhancing a spice’s colour may enable a producer to inflate its price.Indian Spices low res

Most herbs and spices are sold ready-ground rather than whole. Likewise, most seasoning blends are made up of ground, rather than whole herbs and spices. It is much easier to adulterate ground spices than whole. Very often spices are ground at source by growers and producers. It is essential, therefore, that the spices used are from reliable and ethical sources.

In general spices are grown overseas because climactic conditions are ideal, rather than because costs will be lower. Spices are sourced from dozens of countries including India, Indonesia, Egypt, Grenada, Sri Lanka, Spain, Morocco, Turkey and Brazil to name but a few. Also, inadvertent adulteration can be a problem if there is lack of cleanliness in the production process. This is difficult to control in some developing regions where producers may gather spices from large numbers of small growers. Many spices from developing countries are sourced from thousands of farmers who grow, harvest and dry spices on small plots of land.

The most common form of adulteration aims to deceive you into thinking a food is more valuable than it actually is. If so, you will either pay more for it, so boosting the profit to the unscrupulous producer or you will be tricked into thinking you are getting a bargain when in fact the unethical producer has reduced his costs by selling you an inferior product. In some cases you may not be getting what you think you are getting (such as by the addition of turmeric to saffron powder to bulk it up cheaply) and in extreme cases the actions of unscrupulous producers may pose a grave threat to human health (such as the addition of carcinogenic Sudan Red 1 dye to red chilli powder to enhance its colour).

There is a long history and tradition of food adulteration. In the third century BC Theophrastus commented on the use of artificial flavourings and economic adulteration. In the first century BC Pliny the Elder gave a detailed report of adulteration including the addition of juniper berries to pepper. In the second century AD Galen also expressed his concerns about the adulteration of pepper. Adulteration of foods, including spices, became more significant with the growth of cities and urbanisation and, in 1860, English statutes were enacted to outlaw adulteration. They haven’t worked and adulteration involving spices continues to this day.

The seriousness of the health issues involved and the consequential risks of criminal charges to the individuals and businesses behind them beg the question of why adulteration still goes on. There appear to be three main reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is greed – to increase profit. A producer may use a cheap filler that is easily disguised in the spice to increase its volume; this makes it cheaper to produce than pure spice and so increases his profit margin.

The second reason is to enable a producer to compete. For instance, if a retailer thinks oregano will sell better if it looks greener, he may ask his supplier for a greener product and an unscrupulous producer may react by adding rockrose (cistus) to it. Rockrose has a dark green colour that when added to oregano makes the oregano more visually appealing than pure oregano. A knock-on undesirable consequence is that this might encourage copycat behaviour to enable other spice producers to compete.

The third reason for adulteration is to do with market forces and consequential cost cutting pressures. If retailers squeeze suppliers to reduce costs and suppliers in turn squeeze producers, there comes a point when a producer can no longer supply a pure product profitably. At that point he must decide whether to turn down the business or to adulterate his product to reduce his costs and maintain an acceptable margin. It is believed that these cost cutting pressures are the main reasons for the adulteration seen today in the herb and spice industry. As a result, suppliers of premium (pure and natural) herbs and spices always compete on quality rather than price.

Generally, a food can be considered adulterated if it:

  • contains any added poisonous substance
  • contains filth
  • contains additives
  • has had any substance added to increase its bulk or weight or to make it appear more valuable
  • has had any constituent removed
  • has had any substance substituted for it

There are many examples of adulteration of spices. Here are just a few of them:

  • adding bulking agents such as non-spice vegetable matter to increase volume
  • adding defatted paprika (the residue of paprika that has had its colour and flavour components removed (using hexane, a constituent of gasoline)) to paprika and chilli powder, to standardise colour
  • adding spent black pepper meal (the residual material left after removing its oleoresin) to ground black pepper
  • the addition of colour additives, such as turmeric to paprika and saffron, or Sudan Red 1 to chilli powder
  • the removal of flavour constituents (for use elsewhere) such as in defatted paprika
  • producing ground spices adulterated with grains, hulls, starch and added oleoresins (a mixture of oils and resins extracted from various plants such as pine and lovage)
  • capsicums adulterated with tomato skins, Sudan Red and related dyes or dextrose
  • oregano adulterated with other herbs such as marjoram, savory and thyme or with foreign leaves such as cistus
  • saffron adulterated with floral waste, turmeric or artificial colours
  • ground black and white pepper adulterated with buckwheat or millet seed
  • cinnamon adulterated with coffee husks
  • nutmeg adulterated with coffee husks

The best defence against deliberate and inadvertent adulteration is to buy only from respected sources. Your best protection is to buy products that have organic certification, as the organic inspection and certification process minimises the risks of adulteration.

The Kev.i.n 11 Words Weight Loss Plan

bear chasing fat people low res

If, like me, you are short for your weight, then this blog post is for you.

I hope you are sitting down. Because I am going to tell you a sure-fire way to lose weight. (That is assuming you have weight to lose, but hey, who doesn’t?)

And it’s free.

And I’m going to tell you how in just 11 words. That’s right, 11 words.

Dieting need not be a weigh of life. (Oh dear.)  Follow my Kev.i.n 11 Words Weight Loss Plan for a better way of life.

Throw away your diet books. Don’t waste your money on support groups or diet clubs or meal replacements or laxatives or diet pills. Forget Atkins. Forget Weightwatchers. Forget the Zone diet, the raw food diet, the grapefruit diet or whatever other fad diet is currently doing the rounds.

So here goes.

How easy is that? It’s no biggie. It works. Trouble is, if you do it, no one is going to make money out of you. And the diet industry isn’t about losing weight, it’s about making money isn’t it? In the UK alone the diet industry is worth about the same each year as the cost of running the entire NHS’s A&E departments nationwide, that’s over £2 billion. Here’s a horrible statistic. In the UK people spend over £20 million each year on laxatives alone!

No one is going to pay a “celebrity” to tell you that to lose weight all you need to do is eat less, eat better, drink less and cheat one day a week. Who’s going to make money out of that?

I should mention exercise. If you exercise more you will be healthier and feel better. But unless you are prepared to spend several hours at it each day, it won’t help you lose much weight. For most of us, a 20 minutes brisk walk will burn off about the same number of calories as you find in one chocolate digestive biscuit. It’s a hell of a lot easier to just bin the biscuit!

So, whether you’re just trying to lose a couple of pounds or if you’re starting to show up on radar, give it a go.

Finally, do you recognise this?

“I want to lose 10 pounds this year. Only 13 left to go.”

Testimonials

“I think Kev.i.n is absolutely wonderful.” Anonymous

“It didn’t work for me.” Victoria Beckham

“Obesity is just Labour propaganda.” Eric Pickles

“When it says eat better, is it meant to say eat butter?” Blond housewife (name withheld)